Small Piece of Melting Italian Glacier Accelerates

An expert monitoring a fast-moving glacier on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc massif says a small section has picked up speed and could break off in the coming days. 
Fabrizio Troilo, a glaciologist with the Safe Mountain Foundation, said Monday that the piece — measuring some 27,000 cubic meters (953,390 cubic feet) — is moving at 60 centimeters (23.6 inches) a day.
 
That is about twice as fast as a massive 250,000-cubic-meter (8,827,683-cubic feet) chunk that also risks breaking off from the Planpincieux glacier.
 
Troilo said the smaller piece “could collapse in the next days or week,” but that such collapses are annual events and would have no impact on the rest of the valley.
 
Experts say the increased melting rate has been linked to climate change.  

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Thai Pime Minister Advises Masks Against Bangkok Smog

Thailand’s prime minister urged residents of Bangkok to wear face masks on Monday after smog covered parts of the capital in what some fear is a harbinger of more pollution to come.Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha warned in a statement on his Facebook page that the concentration of tiny dust particles called PM2.5 in the air had reached unsafe levels and said he has ordered government agencies to expedite anti-pollution measures. He also asked the construction and manufacturing sectors to reduce activities that release pollutants.Smog levels are expected to stay high for the next two or three days.The head of the country’s Pollution Control Department, Pralong Damrongthai, said the visibly dirty air was not caused by smoke originating from forest fires in Indonesia. Since last month, haze blown by monsoon winds from fires in Indonesia has affected nearby countries including the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia and parts of southern Thailand, raising concerns about aviation safety and health.Indonesian officials say they have made progress in containing the fires, including successful efforts at rainmaking, which they say reduced the number of fire “hotspots” from more than 5,000 about two weeks ago to 491 on Sunday.Thailand’s Pralong told Thai PBS television that the problem in Bangkok is due to still air and high humidity becoming loaded with ultrafine dust from vehicle emissions, construction sites and other pollutants. He said it was then trapped close to the ground by a blanket of warm air in what meteorologists call an inversion.Thailand’s government has set a safe level of 50 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, although other countries have lower limits. The Pollution Control Department’s website put Monday’s level as high as 79 micrograms.PM2.5 particulates are small enough to be sucked deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream, and can cause respiratory problems and may raise risks of cardiovascular disease and cancers.It’s the second time this year Bangkok has been blanketed with a cocktail of pollutants. Smog levels also spiked back in January.Pralong acknowledged the pollution levels might shoot up again in January and February, during the dry season, when farmers burn fields to make way for new planting, another factor that contributes to the problem. He said his department and other units are preparing more stringent measures to better handle the problem than earlier this year.As the noxious smog settled over Bangkok, many residents fished out masks from drawers and went about their business.“A lot of my friends are saying they come to the office, their noses are running. Their eyes really hurt. All of them are really coughing today. It’s not normal anymore,” said Piyavathara Natthadana, an office worker who was wearing a mask.“There’s not much we can do. We have to monitor the news and protect ourselves,” said Chakrapong Sanguanjit, another Bangkok resident walking downtown with a mask on.Some environmentalists blamed the government for failing to act fast enough, despite being well aware of the issues.“The cause of the problem is the same. The sources of the pollution are the same. But measures to control the sources of pollution are not implemented yet because they said that takes time,” said Tara Buakamsri of the environmental group Greenpeace.

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Historic Payment to Gabon Seeks to Preserve ‘Earth’s Lungs’

Gabon is one of the greenest countries in the world, with 88 percent of its land covered by forest. A historic agreement between Gabon and Norway is seeking to ensure it stays that way. Through the U.N.-backed Central African Forest Initiative (CAFI), Norway will pay Gabon up to $150 million over 10 years in exchange for Gabon reducing its carbon emissions and to give value to the forests’ role in absorbing carbon dioxide. In an interview with Voice of America, Lee White, Gabon’s Minister of Forests, said the agreement is groundbreaking because it is making it nearly as valuable for countries to preserve forests as to chop them down. “In all of the deals we’ve seen over the years, forest carbon has been worth $5 a ton. And in this one, subject to meeting best practice, they’ve gone to $10. So overnight we doubled the price of forest carbon. It gives a lot of hope to all the other forest nations,” he said. In a statement, CAFI said the deal will allow Gabon to achieve its goal of preserving 98 percent of its existing rainforest for the future. Across Central Africa, forests store as much as 70 billion tons of carbon which is equal to 5 to 10 years of global greenhouse gas emissions, CAFI said. The African forest is the second-largest rainforest in the world, sometimes called “Earth’s second lung”White said the agreement is part of a larger effort by Gabon to preserve its forests. Ten years ago, the country made headlines by announcing an end to raw timber exports. Although logging continues for processed wood products and domestic use, it is done in a sustainable way, White said.“We’ve doubled the number of forestry jobs and we’re opening new processing plants pretty much every month. And so that measure is starting to pay off. And what we’re finding is that we can make more money and create more jobs by exploiting less,” he said.He added that this is a strong reversal of centuries of exploitation of natural resources on the African continent by Europeans.“If you look at the history of the continent it’s been about ripping out cheap natural resources and sending it to other parts of the world to develop,” White said. “So Africa fueled the Industrial Revolution. Africa has fueled part of China’s rise and in economic terms. And so the first component of it is to make the use of our natural resources indigenous to transform things locally.”

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Province in Southern Pakistan Set to Ban Plastic Bags on October First

They choke coral reefs, clog waterways, and provide a near-permanent mark on the landfills they occupy.  One environmental agency (WWF) estimates that Pakistan’s port city of Karachi produces five-to-seven-thousand tons of plastic each day. A ban on plastic bags in the region is due to go into effect this week. VOA’s Arash Arabasadi has this story in the bag.

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Hope Endures for Nigerian Cardiac Patients

Health experts say Nigeria is seeing increasing cases of heart disease. Low awareness, lack of adequate medical facilities and expertise are major factors worsening the situation in the country. But a non profit is collaborating with the World Heart Federation to provide proper education and treatment for underprivileged patients.Participants chat at an awareness and fundraising event to mark World Heart Day in Abuja, the Nigerian capital.The program is organized by the non-profit, Global Development and Charity Support Foundation in collaboration with the World Heart Federation.Head of the non profit, Samuel Asomugha says apart from educating locals on the early signs of heart disease, his organization is making funds available to treat patients.”When you have a healthy heart, then you can lead a healthy life, then a lot of these health and heart related mortalities can be avoided,” he said.The non-profit targets about 1,000 patients for treatment.A 2018 WHO country profile reveals cardiovascular diseases is the leading cause of deaths among non-communicable diseases in Nigeria with over 11 percent prevalence.”Whichever heart disease you want to look at, whether it’s heart failure, whether it’s coronary artery disease, the incidence of patients who are coming forward to hospital is on the rise,” says cardiologist Dauda Balami.Congenital heart deformities in children are also on the rise.Nnamdi Azubuike’s one-year-old child was diagnosed with a heart condition in 2015.”We found out that he was not breathing very well, so we went to the hospital and after the analysis, then a doctor now told us that he’s having a hole in his heart,” said Azubuike.Heart related conditions often require tertiary level care and sophisticated surgeries but Nigeria lacks medical facilities and the expertise needed.Paediatrician and cardiologist Tolu Utele, admits the situation is serious.”It is almost like a death sentence for children that are born with these heart defects, all we do in most places is to manage them until they die and many of them actually end up dying,” said Utele.As talks around heart issues continue in Nigeria, citizens, nonprofits and many with conditions hope things get better.  

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Disability Group President Resigns Over Thunberg Remark

An elected official in central Illinois has resigned as president of a local nonprofit after a social media post about teen climate activist Greta Thunberg.The Peoria Journal Star reports that Jay Hall wondered on Facebook if the 16-year-old Swede had “Mongoloidism.” He acknowledged it was an inappropriate reference to Down syndrome.
 
Hall has resigned as president of a local AMBUCS group in Pekin, an organization that helps people with mobility problems. He says he wasn’t trying to insult Thunberg. He believes she’s being manipulated by climate change activists.AMBUCS says it has accepted Hall’s resignation over “inappropriate comments.”
Hall also is an elected member of the Tazewell County Board.    

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Teenage Climate Activist Leads Hundreds of Thousands in Montreal March

Hundreds of thousands of people joined teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg for a march in Montreal Friday, part of a second wave of global protests demanding action on climate change.Thunberg responded to critics, including U.S. President Donald Trump, saying she doesn’t “understand why grown-ups would choose to mock children and teenagers for just communicating and acting on the science when they could do something good instead.”Without mentioning Trump by name, Thunberg said, “We’ve become too loud for people to handle so people want to silence us.”She called on world leaders to do more for the environment, following a meeting earlier Friday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.”My message to all the politicians around the world is the same,” she said. “Just listen and act on the current best available science.””He (Trudeau) is of course obviously not doing enough, but this is just a huge problem, this is a system that is wrong,” she said.Trudeau earlier praised Thunberg’s activism saying, “She is the voice of a generation.”Protests also took place Friday across Europe and Asia, with organizers saying 200,000 people, mainly youths, joined a march in Milan and another 100,000 in Rome.Protesters gathered in a host of countries, including India, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Austria and Germany.The demonstrations come a week after millions of youths and adults rallied worldwide ahead of the U.N. summit in New York.

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US Probe of Vaping Illnesses Focuses on THC From Marijuana

U.S. health officials said Friday that their investigation into an outbreak of severe vaping-related illnesses was increasingly focused on products that contain the marijuana compound THC. 
 
Most of the 800 people who got sick vaped THC, the ingredient in marijuana that causes a high, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But officials said they didn’t know whether the THC was the problem or some other substance added to the vaping liquid, such as thickeners. 
 
“The outbreak currently is pointing to a greater concern around THC-containing products,” said the CDC’s Dr. Anne Schuchat. 
 
So far, investigators have not identified a particular e-cigarette, vaping device, liquid or ingredient behind the outbreak. But officials say patients have mentioned the name Dank Vapes most frequently. Many of the people who got sick in Illinois and Wisconsin said they used prefilled THC cartridges sold in Dank Vapes packaging. No single store or distributor
 
“It’s a generic product name that doesn’t really tie back to one store or one distributor,” said Dr. Jennifer Layden, chief medical officer for the Illinois Department of Public Health. 
 
“Folks are getting it from friends or folks on the street, with no understanding of where it came from prior to that.” she said Friday. 
 
Until a cause is pinned down, the CDC continues to advise Americans to consider avoiding all vaping products, though the agency on Friday added the phrase “particularly those containing THC.” 
 
“We didn’t feel comfortable dropping the broader recommendation yet,” said Schuchat. 
 
This week, the CDC reported 805 confirmed and probable cases of the lung illness. Thirteen people have died. Only the U.S. has reported such an outbreak, although Canadian officials this week confirmed that country’s first case. 
 
On Friday, the agency provided more details in two reports: 
 
— The first case in the U.S. began in late March. Cases ramped up in late June and rose dramatically in late July. 
 
— The median age of those who have become ill is 23. But the median age of those who have died is much older — 50. 
 
— Nationally, 9 in 10 cases required hospitalization. Many young and previously healthy adolescents and young adults needed machines to help them breathe. 
 
— In Illinois and Wisconsin, patients mentioned 87 different product names and many vaped more than one. Similar to injury
 
Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, diarrhea and vomiting. 
 
Officials continue to find a substantial numbers of U.S. patients — the new report says 16% — who said they vaped only nicotine, and not THC. But the report noted that in Wisconsin, five patients who initially denied using products with THC turned out to have used them. 
 
The most illnesses have occurred in California, Illinois, Texas and Wisconsin. 

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Modi Tells UN India Launching Campaign to Stamp Out Single-Use Plastic

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations on Friday that India was launching a campaign to stamp out the use of single-use plastics.”Even as I am addressing you today, a very large campaign is being started across the entire country to make India free of single-use plastic,” Modi, who wants to scrap such plastics by 2022, told the 193-member U.N. General Assembly.Officials told Reuters last month that India is set to impose a nationwide ban on plastic bags, cups and straws on Oct. 2. 

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2nd Wave of Protests Caps Week Focused on Climate Action

Students took to the streets across the globe in the hundreds of thousands Friday for a second wave of worldwide protests demanding swift action on climate change.The protests were inspired by Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who spoke to world leaders this week at a United Nations summit in New York.Friday’s rallies kicked off in New Zealand, where young people marched on Parliament in Wellington, holding one of the largest protests ever held there. Organizers in the capital were forced to change their security plans to accommodate the crowds, while thousands more marched in Auckland and other parts of the country.On the other side of the planet, more than 100,000 rallied in Italy’s capital, Rome, where protesters held up signs with slogans such as “Change the system, not the climate” or just the word “Future.”Activists demonstrate during a worldwide protest demanding action on climate change, in Milan, Italy, Sept. 27, 2019.Marches took place in about 180 locations across Italy, including the country’s financial hub of Milan where one banner read “How dare you!” — the accusation Thunberg, 16, leveled at world leaders during her U.N. speech in New York on Monday. The Italian Education Ministry said students attending the event would not be penalized for missing school.Fears about the impact of global warming on the younger generation were expressed by schoolchildren in Dharmsala, India. South Asia depends heavily on water from the Himalayan glaciers that are under threat from climate change.In Berlin, activists from the Fridays for Future group braved persistent rain to protest against a package the German government recently agreed for cutting the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Experts say the proposal falls far short of what’s needed if the world’s sixth biggest emitter is to meet the goal of the Paris climate accord.Actor Javier Bardem joined dozens of young people in San Sebastian in one of several early demonstrations and rallies held across Spain on Friday morning ahead of evening demonstrations to be held in the major towns and cities. They are expected to draw big crowds, especially in Madrid and Barcelona.Demonstrators hold up posters at a climate change rally in Erfurt, Germany, Sept. 27, 2019.Bardem was in San Sebastian to promote a documentary he worked on with Greenpeace.Thunberg said she planned to attend a protest in Montreal.”New Zealand leading the way into Friday nr 2 in #WeekForFuture,” she tweeted. “Good luck everyone striking around the world. Change is coming!!”In Wellington, 18-year-old university student Katherine Rivers said it was great to see young people taking action and personal responsibility by marching.”We need to stop pandering to some of the people who are making money off climate change. The big oil companies, the dairy industry etc.,” she said. “And make a change for the future of these kids that are here.”While thousands of high school students elected to take time off school to protest, many adults also joined the marches. One of them was 83-year-old grandmother-of-three Violet McIntosh.”It’s not my future we’re thinking about,” McIntosh said.  She said it was time politicians should listen to young people like Thunberg, whom she described as “amazing.””She stood out there by herself to start it all. Millions of people are following her now,” McIntosh said. “She should be very proud of herself.”In the Netherlands, where thousands joined a protest in The Hague, some participants acknowledged that getting politicians to take action against global warming was only part of the story.”It’s also about then leading sustainable lives and making changes to make your life more sustainable,” said Utrecht University student Beth Meadows.German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said part of the government’s plan is to encourage citizens to shift their behavior.”People, and businesses too, know that over the coming years, step by step, behavior that harms the climate (and) causes a lot of emissions will have a higher price than before,” Seibert told reporters in Berlin. 

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Health Experts Warn Disease Could Kill Millions Worldwide in 36 Hours

Health experts warn we are due for a cataclysmic pandemic — they just don’t know when it will happen.The warning was delivered this week to world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly by a special global health monitoring group that said the next pandemic could traverse the world in 36 hours, killing up to 80 million and causing devastating economic loss.The group, the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, operates independently of the World Health Organization and the World Bank, the entities that created it last year with a mandate to issue an annual assessment. The first report was grim.A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, western Kenya, Sept. 13, 2019, during the launch of a malaria vaccination campaign in the country.Lack of medical care a threatDespite remarkable gains in medicine, politics and social issues keep those in rich countries as well as poor ones from desperately needed medical care, and this threatens the entire world.Medical achievements of the past several decades are remarkable. AIDS once meant enduring a horrible death, but now treatment has changed that and research on a vaccine is promising.Moreover, there’s talk about ending malaria, a disease that kills half a million people each year, most of them children.Scientists are also closing in on Ebola. A vaccine and two new drugs to treat those infected are saving lives in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ebola used to kill up to 90% of its victims. Now, it’s been reversed.Dr. Anthony Fauci, at the U.S. National Institutes of Health and a member of the board, says with a low viral load, someone infected with the Ebola virus now has a 90% chance of surviving.This report warns that the world is woefully unprepared for the next pandemic. So unprepared that the next pandemic could kill up to 80 million people and cause enormous economic suffering.FILE – Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former prime minister of Norway and a former head of the World Health Organization.The report is intended for political leaders. One of the board’s co-chairs is both a doctor and a politician. Gro Harlem Brundtland is a former prime minister of Norway and a former head of the World Health Organization. She likens health to a military threat in response to which an entire government comes together.“This has to be the same in global health security,” Brundtland said.Fauci just returned from a trip to East Africa to assess progress against an Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo.“I was clearly impressed at the capabilities of the Congolese who are administering the care here, as well as the preparedness of the Rwandans and the Ugandans, in case cases spill over the border,” he said.The board cited stigma as a problem that makes it more difficult to stop the spread of disease. Diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, Ebola and others carry such a stigma that those who are infected often don’t seek treatment. Political leaders can create policies to erase stigma, the board said.The report cited poverty and lack of clean water and sanitation as incubators for infectious disease. Political leaders can fund cleaning up polluted water and improving hygiene.“We need to have a stronger preparedness across the board to avoid unnecessary loss of life and large economic losses,” Brundtland warned.The monitoring group also cited prolonged conflict and forced migration as risk factors for the spread of disease. It urged countries to establish emergency preparedness from the local level on up, to build trust and to work cooperatively to improve responses to serious threats and ensure health of the world’s 7.7 billion people.
 

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Health Experts Warn That Disease Could Kill Millions in Just 36 Hours

This week, world leaders at the U.N. General Assembly heard warnings about massive loss of life and diseases that could circle the global in just three days. VOA’s Carol Pearson reports that a special global preparedness monitoring group issued a report that says inaction will have grim consequences. The report said prevention heavily depends on political and social action as well as good medical care.
 

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Number of Vaping-Related Lung Illnesses Rises

The epidemic of severe lung illness related to e-cigarettes continues to grow, federal officials say, as they try to pinpoint the exact cause.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said as of Thursday there were 805 cases of confirmed or suspected vaping-related lung illnesses in 46 states and the Virgin Islands — up more than 200 since last week. Twelve deaths are reported.Many of the victims say they used vaping products containing THC, the compound in marijuana that causes the high. But others say they only vaped nicotine.The CDC is urging everyone to stop using e-cigarettes, but several states are not waiting for federal officials to take stronger action.Massachusetts this week became the first state to temporarily ban all retail and online sales of e-cigarettes. The ban is set to last for four months.Other states have stopped the sale of flavored vaping products, saying the fruit and candy flavors appeal to young people.The largest e-cigarette maker, JUUL, announced this week it will stop advertising its products.E-cigarettes heat up liquid inside a cartridge and create a nicotine-filled vapor.Federal officials have ordered JUUL to stop marketing e-cigarettes as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco cigarettes, saying such claims have never been proved.They also strongly recommend e-cigarettes users not go back to regular cigarettes and to seek help if they have trouble quitting smoking.

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Suicide Rate in Active Duty US Service Members Rises Significantly

The rate of suicide among active duty service members has increased significantly over the past five years, according to a Pentagon report released on Thursday.The report comes after three U.S. sailors assigned to the aircraft carrier George H.W. Bush died by apparent suicide last week, incidents the Navy has said are separate and unrelated.The Pentagon’s first annual suicide report said that the rate of suicide deaths among active duty service members was 24.8 per 100,000 service members, up from just under 20 per 100,000 in 2013. In 2018, 541 service members died by suicide, the report said, adding that the most common method of suicide was with firearms.”We are not going in the right direction,” Elizabeth Van Winkle, director of the office of force resiliency, told reporters.During the briefing, the Pentagon took the unusual step of advising reporters on how to cover suicides, such as not calling it a “growing problem” or “skyrocketing” because it could cause contagion.U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Wednesday that the military was caught up in “what some call a national epidemic of suicide among our youth.””I wish I could tell you we have an answer to prevent further, future suicides in the Armed Services,” Esper said. “We don’t.”  

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US Vaping Illness Count Jumps to 805, Deaths Rise to 12

Hundreds more Americans have been reported to have a vaping-related breathing illness, and the death toll has risen to 12, health officials said Thursday.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 805 confirmed and probable cases have been reported, up 52% from the 530 reported a week ago. At this point, illnesses have occurred in almost every state.The confirmed deaths include two in California, two in Kansas, and one each in Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Oregon. The Mississippi death was announced by officials in that state Thursday.Over the summer, health officials in a few states began noticing reports of people developing severe breathing illnesses, with the lungs apparently reacting to a caustic substance. The only common factor in the illnesses was that the patients had all recently vaped.As a national investigation started and broadened, reports have increased dramatically.It’s not clear how many of the 275 added cases occurred in the last week, and how many are being logged long after they happened. The CDC has not released details on when symptoms began in each case.The agency’s count includes only illnesses that have met certain criteria. Other illnesses are also being investigated.Most patients have said they vaped products containing THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana. The investigation has been increasingly focused on products containing THC, with some attention on ingredients added to marijuana oil.But some patients have said they vaped only nicotine. Currently, health officials are advising people not to use any vaping product until the cause is better understood.

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Health Officials: It’s Time to Give Flu Vaccine Another Shot

The flu forecast is cloudy and it’s too soon to know if the U.S. is in for a third miserable season in a row, but health officials said Thursday not to delay vaccination.While the vaccine didn’t offer much protection the past two years, specialists have fine-tuned the recipe in hopes it will better counter a nasty strain this time around.“Getting vaccinated is going to be the best way to prevent whatever happens,” Dr. Daniel Jernigan, flu chief at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Associated Press.Last year’s flu brought double trouble: A new strain started a second wave of illnesses just as the first was winding down, making for one of the longest influenza seasons on record. The year before that marked flu’s highest death toll in recent decades.So far, it doesn’t look like the flu season is getting an early start, Jernigan said. The CDC urges people to get their flu vaccine by the end of October. Typically flu starts widely circulating in November or December, and peaks by February.“Painless,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar pronounced after getting his own flu shot at a news conference Thursday.If people shrug at the risk, “it’s not just about you,” Azar said. “Vaccinating yourself may also protect people around you,” such as how newborns have some flu protection if their mothers were vaccinated during pregnancy.Scientists are hunting for better flu vaccines, and the Trump administration last week urged a renewed effort to modernize production. Most of today’s vaccine is produced by growing flu virus in chicken eggs, a 70-year-old technology with some flaws. It takes too long to brew new doses if a surprise strain pops up. And intriguingly, newer production techniques just might boost effectiveness.For now, people who get vaccinated and still get sick can expect a milder illness — and a lower risk of pneumonia, hospitalization or death, stressed Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.He’s been known to tell such patients, “I’m always glad to see you’re still here to complain.”Here are some things to know:WHO NEEDS VACCINE?Everybody, starting at 6 months of age, according to the CDC.Flu is most dangerous for people over age 65, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as heart disease, asthma or other lung disorders, even diabetes.But it can kill even the young and otherwise healthy. On average, the CDC says flu kills about 24,000 Americans each year. Last year, 135 children died.Parents wouldn’t “drive off with their child not restrained in a car seat, just in case they’re in an accident,” said Dr. Patricia Whitley-Williams, a pediatrician with Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. “So why would you not vaccinate your child against the flu?”HOW MANY GET VACCINATED?Not enough, the CDC says. Because flu mutates rapidly, a new vaccine is needed every year. Last year, 45% of adults and 63% of children got vaccinated, according to figures released Thursday.Some groups do a little better. Nearly three-quarters of children under age 5 were vaccinated last year, and just over two-thirds of seniors.HOW BAD WILL THIS YEAR BE?Flu is one of medicine’s most unpredictable foes.For example, last fall started off fairly mild. But in February, a strain notorious for more severe illness, called H3N2, suddenly popped up. Worse, even though each year’s vaccine contains protection against H3N2, the circulating bug had mutated so it wasn’t a good match. A vaccine that had worked well for the first few months of flu season suddenly wasn’t much use.But if that harsh bug returns, this year’s vaccine has been updated to better match it.LOTS OF OPTIONSManufacturers say up to 169 million vaccine doses will be available this year, and people can ask about different choices. Most will offer protection against four flu strains.Traditional flu shots are for all ages. For needle-phobic adults, one brand uses a needle-free jet injector that pushes vaccine through the skin. And the FluMist nasal spray is for generally healthy people ages 2 through 49, who aren’t pregnant.Two brands are specifically for the 65-plus crowd, whose weakened immune systems don’t respond as well to traditional shots. One is high dose, and the other contains an extra immune-boosting compound. Those brands protect against three flu strains, including the more typically severe ones.And people allergic to eggs have two options, one brand grown in mammal cells instead and another made with genetic technology and insect cells.NO-EGG VACCINES GAINING NEW INTERESTNewer technologies could speed production, which is currently a six-month process.But there’s another reason going egg-free is getting scientists’ attention: Certain strains change a bit while growing in chicken eggs, an adaptation that can make the resulting vaccine a little less protective.It’s mainly a problem for those worrisome H3N2 strains. While it’s not clear how much difference that makes, Schaffner said some doctors already consider using egg-free brands for high-risk patients.OTHER STEPS TO TAKECover coughs and sneezes. Wash your hands frequently during flu season. One recent study showed washing is better than hand sanitizers.Ask about anti-flu treatments if you’re at high risk of complications.And most important, stay home if you’re sick to keep from spreading the misery.

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